Multiplicity: Nuance in Antigone(s)

Saint Mary's students read Sophocles' Antigone in freshman Seminar.Sophocles’ Antigone is a timeless story: the struggle between individual values and conscience, and the state’s need for law and order.

The play pits Antigone, the daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta, against the state as she seeks burial for her brother, Polynices, an accused traitor. Burial and mourning of such a person is illegal in Thebes, punishable by death. The ensuing battle of wills between Antigone and Creon, Thebe’s ruler, ends in tragedy.

Antigone is often presented as though there were no real conflict, as though Creon is the bad guy and only the individual’s choice matters. But it’s more nuanced and complicated than that. Today we are particularly sensitive about the impingement on individual rights, but also forced to be aware of the need for security, for procedures that protect our society. There are always trade-offs.

I think Antigone isn’t really about a choice between good and bad, or between competing goods. Nor is it just about protecting individual rights against the power of the state. I think it’s a cautionary tale about the danger of someone on either side of a divide assuming he or she is absolutely right and the other side is absolutely wrong.

So, in preparing this play, I wanted to explore the true nature of the conflict by presenting multiple perspectives, using more than one version—Sophocles’, but also Jean Anouilh’s and Bertolt Brecht’s. This approach also creates more roles for women, something classical theater often can’t provide.

We hope to present an interpretation of this classic, timeless story that, instead of telling the audience what to think, raises questions and asks them to draw their own conclusions.

- Professor Frank Murray

Murray, who has been at Saint Mary’s since 1988, is particularly interested in the origins of theater and 19th- and 20th-century drama.

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